Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-2. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Next Generation, First Contact, and Voyager.
It’s been a long road… getting from there to here. Picard Season 1 wrapped up two years ago this month, but thanks to the pandemic it’s taken until now for the show’s second season to be ready. I said over and over again in late 2019 and early 2020 that Picard was the series I’d been waiting for for eighteen years! As a Trekkie who first fell in love with the franchise thanks to The Next Generation, returning to that era and spending more time with Jean-Luc Picard (and other familiar faces) will always be something that gets me excited!
The Star Gazer was beyond fantastic, and by the time the credits rolled I was sitting there with a big stupid grin plastered across my face. Though there were a couple of slightly clunky lines of expository dialogue, the episode was an incredible ride from start to finish, and I’m so pleased that the season’s pre-release marketing managed to keep such a big secret. I went into The Star Gazer completely unprepared for what I was about to experience – and what I found was one of the best episodes of live-action Star Trek that I’ve seen in a long time.
Picard Season 1 had received some criticism for stepping away from the familiar 24th Century aesthetic that had defined the fifteen-year span that we call The Next Generation era, and the producers and designers have clearly taken all of that on board when crafting Season 2. The brand-new USS Stargazer recaptured that look, moving it along in subtle, incremental ways rather than throwing it out or trying to radically overhaul it. And both the CGI and practical designs used to bring that 24th Century look to life were absolutely perfect. Whether it was the design of the captain’s chair with its trademark cushion gap, the sleek lines of the helm and operations consoles at the front of the bridge, or the return to physical LCARS-based screens instead of an overreliance on holographic interfaces, this ship absolutely oozed “Star Trek” from every pore.
The fleet that assembled to face down the anomaly was also absolutely perfect. The Starfleet armada seen in the Season 1 finale was a copy-and-paste job, a large fleet but one comprised of only a single starship design. Again, the creators and producers took on board feedback provided by fans all around the world and changed things up, bringing to screen a smaller but far more visually impressive assortment of ships. The new design of the USS Stargazer is going to become iconic, I have no doubt, but there were also callbacks to past iterations of the franchise! I spied a Sovereign-class ship, a variant of the Excelsior-class, and at least one other that may have appeared either in Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War or possibly First Contact – alongside several new starships that I didn’t recognise. These ships all looked beautiful, with outstanding animation work used to bring them to life.
I don’t play Star Trek Online, so I don’t have the same connection that some fans of that game will have to some of the ships that appeared in the new fleet, but I’m so glad that the creatives reached out to the Star Trek Online team – the game even received a credit at the end of The Star Gazer. I’ve seen on social media that Star Trek Online has done a great job at designing ships – they’re one of the big in-game collectables – so it makes a ton of sense to work together on a project like this. The inclusion of Star Trek Online ships will mean a lot to fans of the game, and I’m so happy to see different parts of the Star Trek franchise linking up in this manner.
The biggest narrative beat that pre-release marketing had managed to conceal was the extent of the Borg’s return. Though the Borg vessel that subtitles identified as “Legion” was seen in the opening titles before it appeared on screen, the way in which the story unfolded was truly spectacular. Firstly, the emergence of a green-tinged anomaly set the scene. Green is a colour we’ve associated with the Borg since their early appearances, so this was the first hint that there could be Borg involvement. I also got just a hint – a feeling, maybe – that the anomaly had a vague resemblance to the beacon/portal that the super-synths used last season. Something about the edges of the anomaly, which were green here, looked at least slightly similar to the red portal seen in Et in Arcadia Ego, though that could just be a standard visual/CGI effect.
Next came the message being transmitted through the anomaly. It fell to Dr Jurati to clean up the message, which was in fact dozens of identical messages being broadcast all at once, but when she managed to isolate part of it, the voice that came through sounded eerily Borg-like. The distorted, mechanical voice had an inhuman quality, and reminded me of when we’ve heard the Borg send hails in past iterations of the franchise. No one acknowledged that in the moment, but it definitely felt like our second hint!
After Picard responded to the message, a large ship emerged. I’m glad it wasn’t a typical Borg cube; the design of this “Legion” vessel was phenomenal. The mechanical arms and insect-like design made it feel immediately threatening, like some kind of nightmarish monster, and its metallic grey exterior bathed in green light meant that we knew it was Borg long before Seven of Nine confirmed it.
I absolutely adore the design of this “Legion” ship. There were echoes of the Borg Queen’s complex that we saw in episodes like Dark Frontier and Endgame in the latter part of Voyager’s run, and although the design itself was new, it immediately felt “Borg” to me, and I would think that most longstanding Trekkies would have similar reactions. As with many Borg vessels, “Legion” is huge, towering over the entire Federation fleet that had been sent to meet it, employing a sense of scale that we seldom see in Star Trek outside of the Borg.
While we’re talking about designs, let’s also celebrate the brand-new USS Stargazer! The new ship borrowed from the original Constellation-class design which debuted in The Battle, a Season 1 episode of The Next Generation, but evolved it and took it forward. The familiar saucer-plus-four-nacelles design is still present, but the ship incorporates a number of aesthetic elements seen on vessels like the Prometheus- and Sovereign-classes. Not only that, but it shoots forward beyond those to feel like a brand-new design that’s even more highly advanced than those ships, both of which are now 25 years behind the times!
It’s wonderful that the creative team was able to build new sets for the Stargazer instead of relying on redresses of Discovery’s. On re-watching Et in Arcadia Ego, for example, the bridge of the USS Zheng He is noticeable as Discovery’s bridge – the captain’s chair in particular. So to see a brand-new set making full use of 24th Century design elements was absolutely fantastic. As mentioned, I loved the return to LCARS screens in place of holographic interfaces, and the Stargazer’s bridge felt like what I’d expect and want to see from the bridge of a Starfleet ship of this new era.
There were new uniforms to accompany the new ships and other aesthetic changes, but they were similar enough to last season’s design that I didn’t feel the change was too obtrusive. I had placed the Picard Season 1 designs on my list of my favourite Starfleet uniforms, and this new variant keeps most of the aesthetic elements that I found most appealing about them.
When I first saw the new uniforms shown off in a couple of promotional images, I wondered if they might’ve been a dress variant; they seemed to employ a style that didn’t seem out-of-place when compared to The Next Generation’s dress uniforms, and the fact that the couple of promo images that I saw seemed to feature officers at Starfleet Command could’ve meant that they weren’t the usual uniforms! But it seems that this design has been widely adopted by Starfleet as their main uniform as of the year 2400 (or is it 2401?)
Strange as it may sound, I actually get a bit of a Lower Decks vibe from the uniform jackets. I doubt that was intentional, and the idea of a uniform jacket over an undershirt is something we’ve seen going all the way back to The Wrath of Khan’s “monster maroon” uniforms! The mostly-black affair with coloured shoulders to denote division is neat, and it’s perhaps Star Trek’s most commonly-seen uniform design, having been seen in several seasons of Deep Space Nine, all of Voyager, and the film Generations. The Season 1 uniforms updated that basic concept, and the Season 2 uniforms feel like another iterative step from the same starting position.
Of course, having dedicated all of this time to talking about the Borg, the Stargazer, and new Starfleet uniforms, we’re not actually going to be spending a lot of time with them – at least as things stand! So let’s take a look at the episode’s story – because I think it’s one of the strongest season-openers in the Star Trek franchise.
Last season, I wrote that Remembrance was almost certainly the strongest premiere episode of any Star Trek show. It probably even eclipsed Emissary – the premiere of Deep Space Nine – which had been the previous high-water mark. Remembrance was a slow-burn episode with some fast-paced moments. It kicked off the story, but it didn’t introduce every character or every narrative thread, and it played its cards close to its chest. The Star Gazer, in contrast, started with a bang! The sequence at the beginning of the episode was explosive and action-packed, and really gave us a taste of what was to come.
The action then jumped back by 48 hours, and it was here that we slowed down and got more of those Remembrance vibes. Picard and Laris at the vineyard, a trip to Starfleet Academy, Picard’s dreams or reminiscences about his mother… all of those slower-paced moments felt great, and stood in stark contrast to the thrilling conflict with the Borg that bookended the episode.
I don’t want to compare The Star Gazer and Remembrance and try to say which was better. I don’t think there’s an answer to a question like that – as with other “which was better” questions in Star Trek, the answer to me is that they’re both fantastic in their own ways and both represent different kinds of stories. There’s a time when I want the slower pace of a story like Remembrance, just like there are times when I want other slower episodes or films. Then there are times where I want action and excitement like The Star Gazer delivered, and I don’t think it’s fair to say “this one was better than that one.” Both season openers do what they do exceptionally well, and trying to choose between them is always going to be something subjective. Not only that, but the answer will depend on what I’m in the mood for at a given moment!
In terms of The Star Gazer itself, the episode naturally put Picard at its centre, but all of the other main cast members got something to do. The only character who felt somewhat off to one side was Soji, who seemed to be taking part in some kind of diplomatic mission. I couldn’t tell if her Federation emblem combadge – which, by the way, is an awesome concept – means that she’s working for the Federation directly, or whether her mission to the planet Raritan IV was on behalf of the synths from Coppelius.
The callback to the Deltans – a race not seen since The Motion Picture over forty years ago – was a neat one, and it was nice to see them make a return. Like the reference to the Kzinti last season, Picard is drawing on some of the lesser-known parts of Star Trek’s canon. It’s possible that Soji is looking for a permanent home for the synths; she mentioned that “we” – i.e. she and someone else or a group – had been touring the galaxy since the ban ended, and with the unclear status of the Zhat Vash and Romulan attitudes to synths, it’s at least possible, in my opinion, that the synths might’ve had to leave Coppelius in order to keep themselves safe.
After their adventures with Admiral Picard, and the discovery of what really happened during the attack on Mars and aboard the USS Ibn Majid, both Raffi and Rios have rejoined Starfleet. Raffi’s last name – Musiker – was heard aloud for what I believe is the first time, which was pretty neat, and I like the way that Starfleet appears to have accepted them both. Both characters had fallen quite far as a result of what happened to them, but being proven right in Raffi’s case and discovering the truth for Rios seems to have settled them both, and set them on a pathway to rejoining the organisation.
In that sense, both characters have had comparable arcs across the series so far – with significant events taking place in the year or so of time that passed off-screen! In both cases, though, seeing them doing well, feeling stable, and having jobs with responsibility that they could take pride in was incredibly sweet; we saw both at such a low ebb, at points, that it feels fantastic to see how the events of Season 1 ultimately led to something positive for both of them.
Dr Jurati’s role is a little less clear; she was wearing a similar Federation emblem to Soji and was clearly working with her as part of her synth-adjacent mission, but in what capacity I’m not sure. She doesn’t seem to have continued to work with Dr Soong building new synths, and the question of whether it’s even possible to continue to build synths without Data’s neurons wasn’t addressed – and may not be any time soon.
Dr Jurati probably got the least successful lines of dialogue in The Star Gazer – her scene at the bar with the unnamed Deltan was very heavy on exposition. Such lines are necessary sometimes, though, and we did get a fair amount of information about Dr Jurati and Rios having broken up and how she’s not in legal jeopardy for killing Dr Maddox, both of which were open questions as the new season began. Given the time-jump (and just how long it’s been in between seasons for casual viewers who may not remember everything that happened) I guess some exposition was inevitable, and it was a short enough conversation to be inoffensive.
When Dr Jurati and Rios were together on the bridge of the Stargazer, I didn’t really feel the whole “never speak to me again” vibe that she and Soji had just been discussing. Santiago Cabrera and Alison Pill have great chemistry together, but in their moments together on the bridge leading up to the Borg or “Legion” message being received I didn’t really buy that they’ve just been through what sounded like an acrimonious split. Of course it’s possible for couples who have broken up to work together and maintain a level of civility and professionalism – but this seemed to be more than just that; they felt rather like friends. Perhaps it’s teeing up something that will be featured later in the season!
Is it a nitpick to ask why Captain Rios asked Dr Jurati to decode the message instead of giving the Stargazer’s literal communications officer time to do her job? I guess it probably is! And I liked the way the scene unfolded, with Dr Jurati clambering across the bridge in a very non-Starfleet way – still feeling the effects of the drinks she’d been having at the diplomatic reception! The way she cleared up the message and was able to pull out an intelligible voice was pure Star Trek, and reminded me of similar scenes with characters like Uhura and Worf in past iterations of the franchise. The only difference was we got to see a fairly detailed look at what she was doing this time, thanks to a holographic display.
Elnor joining Starfleet reminds me of the Nog storyline in Deep Space Nine, and I think it has potential. It certainly wasn’t a direction that I was expecting for his character, but it definitely beats returning to Vashti with the nuns – both as a story beat and, I’m sure, from Elnor’s point of view too! Being the first of his race to enlist could pose unique challenges – particularly in light of the difficult relationship between the Federation and the Romulan Empire/Romulan Free State following the attacks on Mars and Coppelius – and it will be interesting to see if we learn much more about his decision to apply to the Academy, what role he sees for himself in Starfleet, and how his studies at the Academy are progressing in the episodes that lie ahead. Nog found Academy life difficult, at first, as a Ferengi; there’s scope for an interesting story about a clash of cultures, perhaps.
Nog’s journey from petty thief to Starfleet officer was one of the best character arcs in Deep Space Nine – and in all of Star Trek, certainly up to that point in the franchise’s history. Elnor doesn’t start from quite such a lowly place, but it still feels like development for his character. Elnor was occasionally comedic in Season 1 – thanks in no small part to his rather sheltered and unique upbringing – but going to Starfleet Academy and learning new skills could set him up for having more to do in Season 2.
The only character who arguably regressed at the start of Season 2 was Seven of Nine. She hadn’t fallen back to her Voyager characterisation (thank goodness), but she was definitely back in her role as a Fenris Ranger; a vigilante operating outside of Starfleet’s jurisdiction and with much of the same passion – and anger – that we saw in Season 1. After the mission to Coppelius, I might’ve expected her to be working with the ex-Borg; there were still a number of survivors after the Artifact landed on the planet, and without Hugh or Soji they don’t really have an advocate. Seven of Nine seemed to be moving toward that role at times in Season 1, particularly in episodes like Broken Pieces and Et in Arcadia Ego – but if she did spend time with the xBs, that part of her life seems to be over.
With the Borg returning in what seems to be a pretty major way, there’s scope for the story to return to the Artifact and the xBs. The question of what happened to them is an interesting one that I’d be happy to see explored, and we now also have the idea of Starfleet using Borg technology in their new ships. That particular plot point has already proven to be very important, and I wonder whether we’ll go into more detail about that at some point this season.
When I first saw First Contact at the cinema in 1996, the Borg Queen was certainly a villain that I found intimidating. But whether it was in First Contact or her appearances in Voyager, I never had quite the same visceral, fearful reaction as I did to her appearance in The Star Gazer. The cloaked, hooded figure, dressed all in black, was absolutely terrifying, and the designers deserve so much credit for bringing a completely new style to this character. After more than thirty years as a Trekkie, I love that the Star Trek franchise can still evoke such reactions from me – even when returning to themes and characters we’ve seen before. There was something of the Grim Reaper in this robed design, and I think it combined with the mechanical elements to create a truly scary presentation.
The Borg work so well as villains because of how oversized, overpowered, and unstoppable they seem – and The Star Gazer punched us in the face with all of those things. The scale of the “Legion” ship, as previously mentioned, and its design were big parts of that, but the way the Borg Queen herself appeared – how her transporter beam could cut through the shields with ease, depositing her on the bridge, and then how she used her mechanical tentacles to seize control of the ship – all of these things ramped up the fear factor, and for the first time really since Enterprise’s second season episode Regeneration I felt that our heroes were in real danger from the Borg.
Mechanical tentacles are new for the Borg Queen, but they make perfect sense. The Borg are organic-machine hybrids, so giving them abilities and tools that humanoids wouldn’t have is perfectly logical – when you think about it, it’s surprising we haven’t seen something like it before! The look of the Queen’s appendages reminded me of oversized assimilation tubes – the kind we’d often see shooting out of Borg drones’ hands or wrists to assimilate unlucky crew members. And that makes sense given what the Queen was doing – she was basically trying to assimilate the ship.
In the days ahead I’ll have to write up some theories about what’s going on with the Borg. It was implied that the Collective has been weakened – perhaps as a result of the actions of Admiral Janeway in the Voyager series finale, but that wasn’t made explicitly clear. It seems as if the Federation has been able to observe or spy on the Borg since the events of Endgame, at least enough to know that they’re in a weakened state, but whether there’s been any further Borg-Federation contact wasn’t clear either. Have we seen the first hints that the Borg might be on their last legs, though? That’s an interesting thought to consider…
There was definitely something amiss with the Borg, and not just their claim to wish to speak with Picard or to join the Federation – a ludicrous idea, surely? I got the sense that this was some kind of desperation play on the Borg’s part, not only because of what their message said, but because of the way the Borg Queen was said to be stunning, rather than killing, the crew of the Stargazer. Whatever she was trying to do, she wanted to stop the security team interfering – but either lacked the will or the strength to kill them. Were they being stunned to be assimilated later? Or were they being stunned, not killed, as some kind of gesture of goodwill?
Even if we are dealing with a vastly weakened Borg Collective, they still possess technology that can outdo anything the Federation has. And we got a payoff, of a sort, to one of the big storylines from last season – the use of Borg “parts” and Borg technology. Apparently it was a bad idea to incorporate Borg tech into Federation ships… who knew?
There’s actually a very interesting real-world parallel here, and it’s one that harkens back to the original presentation of the Borg. As I wrote in my essay The Borg: Space Zombies a while ago, the Borg draw on many of the same ideas that inspired zombie fiction. The frightening idea at the core of an enemy like the Borg is our innate fear of losing ourselves and suffering a fate worse than death. Metaphorically, the Borg can be argued to represent an extreme form of brainwashing, something that here in the west we always accused the communists in the east of doing to their citizens. The Borg, created in the late 1980s at a time when Cold War jingoism had made a comeback, can be read as an American view of Soviet communists – brainwashed to all think alike, having no volition, no independence, and no freedom.
Here in The Star Gazer, we get to see how the Federation used Borg technology in their ships, and how that led to a “backdoor” for the Borg Queen to exploit. In recent years we’ve heard accusations levelled at companies like Huawei that they’re doing something similar. Popular social media app TikTok was even criticised for this, and there’s been a fear for the last few years of granting Chinese companies “too much” access to communications and technology here in the west. In the UK, for example, Huawei was recently denied the opportunity to construct the nation’s 5G mobile network, and another Chinese company was set to be replaced as an investor in a large nuclear power plant, with similar concerns being cited.
This is Star Trek at its best – using a sci-fi lens to touch on (or at least glance at) real-world issues. The idea of foreign companies or agencies potentially having “backdoor” access to important infrastructure is a very contentious one, as governments try to balance the need for investment with their concerns about hacking and cyber-warfare. In this most recent depiction of the Borg, we got to see a very “Star Trek” take on this concept. The Borg can certainly be seen as a manifestation of western fears about communism, so to include them in this kind of story about hacking, cyber-warfare, and technological “backdoors” based on their technology is one I take an interest in!
If you missed my essay on the Borg, you can find it by clicking or tapping here.
The music in The Star Gazer is worthy of a mention! It included a number of familiar musical motifs and melodies from past iterations of the franchise. I heard parts of the familiar theme from The Next Generation as well as figures and stings from The Original Series and First Contact. The episode also made great use of classical music to open Soji’s reception, a funky jazz number to set the scene at Guinan’s bar, and a haunting rendition of the classic French ballad Non, je ne regrette rien in the moments before the Stargazer’s self-destruct sequence was activated.
Speaking of the self-destruct, was it odd that Captain Rios didn’t order the crew to abandon ship? With a ten-second countdown, maybe most of them wouldn’t have had time – and those on the bridge would have stayed regardless – but perhaps some of those down on the lower decks, if they were lucky enough to be near an escape pod, might’ve been able to escape if they’d heard the order. It’s a very minor point in some respects in the context of the story, but it struck me as odd that the order wasn’t given.
I did like, though, that Picard’s authorisation code was exactly the same as Kirk’s in The Search for Spock. That callback was a really neat one, and one that seems to confirm that all admirals – even newly-reinstated ones – have the authority to set a ship to self-destruct. As the flag officer, the destruction order fell to Picard, even though the Stargazer was under Rios’ command, which is another point of note.
The discussion in the conference room was a genuinely interesting one, showing different perspectives on the Borg. If we assume that the Borg are in a weakened state because of what happened in Endgame, this meeting could be years in the making. The question I have is one of timing – are the Borg making this move now, singling out Picard by name, because they know he’s now a synth? Perhaps that’s something to save for my next theory post!
Seven of Nine was arguing for attacking the Borg ship outright, whereas Picard and Dr Jurati were seemingly willing to hear what they had to say. For Picard, who had been aggressively anti-Borg during the events of First Contact, and who was still processing his Borg trauma in Season 1, this feels like a pretty big step. Perhaps he’s pushing his feelings down, trying to remain objective and level-headed, willing to give the benefit of the doubt, even for a second, to an old and very personal enemy. I’m not sure. I think it worked well, though, and this felt like the Picard we remember – he wouldn’t sanction exterminating an enemy while they asked for help. He couldn’t support the Federation’s decision to withdraw and stop helping the Romulans, and he wouldn’t consider firing first on the Borg here for the same fundamental reason.
Picard’s other role the story was an interesting one. The setup for The Star Gazer used Picard’s lack of romantic entanglements during The Next Generation as its basis, asking the question: “why?” Why has Picard remained unattached throughout his life? Even going as far back as his time as an ensign, as shown in the episode Tapestry, Picard’s story mostly avoided sex and relationships – though he did strike up relationships with an officer under his command, Nella Daren, in the episode Lessons, with Anij in Insurrection, and of course came close with Dr Crusher.
It seems as though an exploration of Picard himself is going to be part of the story, figuring out why it is that he’s remained single and unattached throughout most of his life. We’ve seen Picard as someone dedicated to his work, but it seems as though The Star Gazer is suggesting there’s more to it than that. It would be very interesting if the answer was that Picard is asexual – perhaps even aromantic or on the aromantic spectrum – but I somehow doubt that’s the direction the story is going! It seems as though his unwillingness to commit to a relationship might be anchored to an event in his past, possibly something to do with his mother.
It was this idea – of embracing a new relationship and learning to love – that Guinan called Picard’s “one final frontier yet to come.” At least part of Picard’s story is going to be tackling whatever this past trauma is and overcoming it. Laris seems to be waiting in the wings for him if he can get to that point, which is certainly an interesting development in and of itself! I’d assumed that Guinan must have been referring to time travel when we heard that line in one of the recent trailers, so it was interesting that The Star Gazer took things in a very different direction.
Guinan also said that this was one of the few things that she and Picard had never discussed. It was great to see her back in this kind of unofficial counsellor role; the shoulder to cry on for Picard as he considered the situation between himself and Laris. We’ve seen Guinan willing to listen and offer advice to many characters – from Wesley Crusher to Data – on subjects like romance, so she felt like a natural fit for this side of the story.
The one thing I’m trying to put out of my mind, speaking as someone who’s asexual, is the idea that Picard is going down a somewhat familiar path. By saying that everyone must want a romantic and presumably sexual relationship, and that if they don’t they must offer some reason or justification – such as past trauma – to explain themselves, some stories in this mould can feel a tad uncomfortable sometimes. It depends how it plays out, and of course I never say that any character must be openly made to be asexual or aromantic! But it’s a trope that some stories can fall into.
As I was struggling with my own asexuality, television shows like The Next Generation and others in the Star Trek franchise held such an appeal for me specifically because the characters didn’t seem to spend all day every day trying to hook up or have sex. The idea that a character like Picard could be “like me” was an appealing one then, and even though he had relationships and near misses over the course of the show’s run, there was a distinction between him and Captain Kirk in that respect, or with other characters like Riker who were much more forward in their romantic liaisons. I’m absolutely interested to see what happened in Picard’s past that might’ve dissuaded him from pursuing a relationship, though, and I think such a story could go far deeper than a potential relationship with somebody like Laris.
As we saw in Season 1, Picard has a tendency to disappear from peoples’ lives. Whether it was Raffi, Elnor, the Romulans on Vashti, Hugh, or even Riker and Troi to an extent, Picard left them to their own devices when he encountered a problem he couldn’t solve; when his diplomatic skills failed him. We also saw as far back as The Next Generation that Picard kept most of his crew at arms’ length, trusting them but not being as close or friendly with them as Captain Kirk had been or as we’d see Captain Janeway be.
These things could be explained by a deeper dive into Picard’s past and his psyche. It could be connected to something in childhood – something to do with his mother. Or it could be something that’s tied to other events in his past, such as his time aboard the original USS Stargazer. We know that Dr Crusher isn’t going to appear in Season 2, so that seems to rule out the most significant event from the Stargazer that we know of – the death of Beverly’s husband Jack Crusher – but it’s certainly very interesting that the new season has brought back the name Stargazer. Is that a coincidence, or will there be some connection to the original ship?
There’s a lot to unpack, and my amateur hour Freudian analysis won’t do the trick! We’ll have to wait and see how this side of the story plays out – or whether it will be sidelined as Picard has to deal with Q’s shenanigans!
Speaking of Q, his inclusion in The Star Gazer was small, coming right at the end, but it was one of my favourite moments in the entire story. The dynamic between Q and Picard has real nuance and depth that takes it far beyond a simple “good-guy-versus-bad-guy” conflict. Q, despite his attitude and provocations, often seems to act out of curiosity – and even, as I’ve theorised, to be helpful. In his own way, Q sees himself as Picard’s friend and ally – and while we’ve seen hints that that might change, I certainly hope that there’s more to Q than just being a straight villain during Season 2.
When Q was first teased sometime last year, I wrote a piece here on the website saying that his appearance can change at will. In that piece I argued that, although the Star Wars franchise and others were doing fun things with digital de-ageing, I didn’t see a need for it in Star Trek, and that an older Q was fine with me. But when I saw the de-aged face of Q standing behind Picard I almost lost my mind. It looked fantastic, and although Q soon aged himself up to catch up with Picard, those few seconds of digital de-ageing made such a tremendous impact on the episode.
As this kind of technology continues to become more accessible, the potential for using CGI characters or de-aged characters becomes practically limitless, as we’ve seen over in the Star Wars franchise with shows like The Book of Boba Fett. Q was absolutely the perfect character to use this technique with, because he can change his appearance in any way he chooses. It fits with his impish sense of humour, too, that he’d want to look older to match with Picard – so to see him appear as we last saw him and then voluntarily age himself up was the perfect way to use this complicated visual effect. I absolutely loved it – it was one of the moments that won the biggest smile from me in The Star Gazer!
There were plenty of smaller references and callbacks to past iterations of Star Trek. The Star Gazer crammed an awful lot into its fifty minutes – and I wonder if that’s because the jump to a different timeline and the mission back in time will mean that fewer such overt references will be possible in the episodes that lie ahead. The display at Starfleet Academy included a number of different familiar ships – and Raffi and Elnor were assigned to the USS Excelsior, which may be a new, refitted, or updated version of the ship first seen in The Search for Spock and later commanded by Captain Sulu.
The speech that Picard gave at the Academy felt like it was one he could’ve delivered at any time in The Next Generation, and really confirmed that he was back to his old self after a decade away from Starfleet and galactic affairs. I loved seeing his story in Season 1 – a story that shows us how heroes can fall, how depression can strike anyone, and how there is hope to find better days ahead. That story was a powerful one, and one absolutely worth telling. But this speech felt like it was drawing a line under that particular chapter of Picard’s life.
After his “rebirth” in a new synthetic body, Picard seems to have fully regained his passion for Starfleet, and while the whole Laris situation has definitely thrown him – as we saw through his conversation with Guinan – it was wonderful to see him getting back to his old self, enjoying his time with Starfleet again. Taking up a role as Chancellor of Starfleet Academy feels like the perfect next move for Picard in terms of his career, and again I felt this was handled perfectly within the story. Raffi said it was an excuse for Picard to get stuck into his work and ignore working on himself – but we all need things to do, sometimes, to distract ourselves! That doesn’t have to be the wholly negative thing it was presented as.
The Borg Queen’s intervention has completely changed things, though. Was it, as Seven of Nine suggested, simply an act of deception on the Borg’s part, using their technology to attempt to assimilate Federation ships in order to get back on their feet? Or is there something more going on? My gut says the latter – that we wouldn’t have heard from people like Dr Jurati, nor seen Picard willing to consider what the Borg had to say, if ultimately the story was going to be one of Borg deception and another attack on the Federation. But those questions are open right now, and the story could go in all manner of different directions from this point.
Though there can be mitigating circumstances, I’m never wild about a character being killed off-screen, which was unfortunately the fate that befell Zhaban. I don’t recall it being stated outright in Season 1 that he and Laris were married; I certainly didn’t get that impression. But if they were, it makes sense that he’d need to be shuffled out of the way to free up Laris and set up this romantic sub-plot and/or this dive into Picard’s past and personality. I would have liked to get a better goodbye with Zhaban, though, as he was an interesting character in his appearances last time.
I think we need to wrap things up – or I’ll never get anything else written! I adored The Star Gazer. It was the return to the world of Star Trek: Picard that I so desperately wanted, washing away the underwhelming end to Season 1 and setting the stage for what I hope will be a new and exciting story. It was dripping with nostalgia – but not so overloaded with it that it drowned out the plot. There’s a balancing act between doing something new and relying on what came before – and The Star Gazer nailed it.
There were so many fun callbacks and references to Star Trek’s past – not only from The Next Generation, but practically the entire franchise! I’m sure I’ve missed many of them, even after re-watching the episode a couple of times.
In terms of the look, sound, and feel of The Next Generation-era of Star Trek, I cannot fault The Star Gazer. The diversity of ships, the inclusion of ships from Star Trek Online, the design of the Stargazer’s bridge, the familiar musical motifs, the LCARS screens and panels, even the angled walls to the ship’s hallways – all of it felt absolutely pure Star Trek, and I adored every second I spent with Picard and the crew.
The Star Gazer also set up a story of inner conflict for Picard – one that interests me and has me curious to learn more. What happened to him in the past; what shaped his life to bring him to this point? And is it about to be changed or meddled with somehow – either by Q or someone else? Why did he seem to hear his mother’s voice speaking to him through the Borg Queen moments before the Stargazer blew up? Was it because the Borg had assimilated his mind in the past and were trying to manipulate him… or is there some other connection that will be revealed?
I cannot wait for the next episode – titled Penance. After such a strong start, I hope it can reach the high bar that The Star Gazer has set. If the rest of the season is this good then we’re in for one of the best sci-fi adventures I’ve ever seen.
Star Trek: Picard Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.